"Sicilians love a pregnant woman - even more they love children. Unlike the rest of Italy, where the birthrate is rather low, Sicilians have numerous families. I find that teachers and other caretakers are very affectionate with child. They love to spoil them and comfort them. It is hard to repremand your child when you have a grandmother watching. THis is my first year with my daughter in preschool and so far I am happy with her progress. Her Italian is flourishing (after a summer with me and an English speaking au pair - her mother tongue was definitely ENglish). She is making friends and learning great social skills. At this stage, the teachers focus more on their social behavior and not the learning/studying aspects, which is fine by me. She will have more than enough time to get to the alphabet and numbers - for now I just want her to be a child. As for childcare - in Sicily it is not part of their culture to be a babysitter. As a teenager, I babysat every other Saturday night. It didnt pay well but it was pocket money. I was looking for a babysitter for my daughter this summer and I was not able to find anyone who is available. That is why I hired an au pair. They do have nursery or daycares. Where I am it is rather affordable something like 150 euros monthly and that includes a meal. I used one for two days and then realized that I wasnt ready to leave her yet. I was not really working and it was not necessary for me to leave her. However as a childcare faciility I was quite pleased with the services offered" (SM, Feb 2013)
What is your name, age and how long have you lived in Sicily? Which part of Sicily do you live in ?
My name is Susan Mines and I am 32. I live in Sciacca Agrigento in Sicily. It is on the Southwestern coast of the island about an hour drive from Palermo. I have been in since May 2007 so a little over five and half years.
Why did you move there?
I moved here because my husband is from the area. He owns a restaurant and it was easier for me to move than for him. Plus I speak better Italian!
What is the area like where you live? Sciacca is a small town about 60,000 live here. It is on the coast and everyone has a view of the sea. It has a thriving commerical harbour and is known for its ceramics. Surrounding it on the inland is coltivated land where they grow mainly olives, oranges and peaches. Along the coast there are numerous beaches which amazingly are quite different from one another.
What nationality are you and your partner?
I am American and my husband is Italian
How many children do you have, what are their names and when were they born?
We have one child, Maggie. She will be three on December 18 and was born in Palermo.
What was your experience of having a baby in Sicily?
I was very nervous about having a child in Italy not to mention Sicily. I mean socalized healthcare...AHHHH A very scary thought for an American. However it was actually quite wonderful. I opted to be followed by a private OB-Gyn. She was with me throughout the whole pregnancy. In Italy, they like to do blood tests every month and an ultrasound almost as often. I requested fewer ultrasounds because I wanted to be surprised and dont feel that more is better. It seems as though everyone in Sicily loves a pregnant woman and is very respectful of them. I had to have a c-section which we knew from the beginning of my pregnancy. As my natural due date grew closer, my doctor did not have any answer as to when my c section would be planned. Initally she said the December 10 which came at went. I was not allowed to deliver that day because the heat in the Operating Room was not working and they could not perform any operations. On December 15, she was able to confirm December 18 as the official day but I would have to go to a private clinic in Palermo. I was shocked - but all the Sicilians that I met gave me the impression that this is common.
Do you work and if so what do you do?
I work at my husbands restaurant and I do everything from bar work, waiting tables, the shopping to washing dishes. Where there is a need I am usually there.
Did you buy or rent your property? How did you find the process?
We initially decided to rent in Sciacca. We found a cute little two bedroom flat in a residental area of town through a real estate agency. This process was easy and exciting. We were given the keys in the evening and had moved in by nightfall. After two years, we decided to look for a larger apartment. Our current landlord offered to sell us the house and do some minor renovations. So we bought the house. It was rather stressful and drawn out. While getting quotes for the loans and to make settlement, the bank and the notary were very optimistic and then we found out the there were obstacles to overcome. In the end it took time to get everything sorted out and was complicated even for my husband who is Sicilian. A year and a half after we gave our down payment, we are finally homeowners.
How well integrated would you say you and your family are?
As a whole, we know our way around town. We do not have real problems resolving problems whether it is enrolling Maggie in classes or finding a doctor or knowing where to get the best deals. In the specific, neither my husband nor I feel like we have become Saccense (someone for Sciacca). I find it difficult to have any real connection with other mothers from here. In order to really become a part of society, one must be very active. No one will come knocking at your door because you are the new family in town - you have to put yourself out there and get involved.
What language do you speak to your children?
I speak only English to her and my husband only Italian.
Do you think it essential to speak Italian when relocating to Sicily?
Absolutely. THey is not enough English speakers in Sicily for one to be able to integrate and to navigate the Sicilian lifestyle.
What is your impression of childcare and education in Sicily?
I mentioned that Sicilians love a pregnant woman - even more they love children. Unlike the rest of Italy, where the birthrate is rather low, Sicilians have numerous families. I find that teachers and other caretakers are very affectionate with child. They love to spoil them and comfort them. It is hard to repremand your child when you have a grandmother watching. THis is my first year with my daughter in preschool and so far I am happy with her progress. Her Italian is flourishing (after a summer with me and an English speaking au pair - her mother tongue was definitely ENglish). She is making friends and learning great social skills. At this stage, the teachers focus more on their social behavior and not the learning/studying aspects, which is fine by me. She will have more than enough time to get to the alphabet and numbers - for now I just want her to be a child. As for childcare - in Sicily it is not part of their culture to be a babysitter. As a teenager, I babysat every other Saturday night. It didnt pay well but it was pocket money. I was looking for a babysitter for my daughter this summer and I was not able to find anyone who is available. That is why I hired an au pair. They do have nursery or daycares. Where I am it is rather affordable something like 150 euros monthly and that includes a meal. I used one for two days and then realized that I wasnt ready to leave her yet. I was not really working and it was not necessary for me to leave her. However as a childcare faciility I was quite pleased with the services offered.
What do you think are the main advantages and disadvantages of being a parent from the International Community living in Sicily? T
he advantages is that I get to give my child another culture and another language. We have this connection that other parents dont have. I am the only person who truly understands her. We celebrate all the American holidays as well as the Italian ones. Many mothers tell me that my daughter is a free spirit. That I allow her to run around barefoot, play on the beach even after I just showered her, let her run around with chocolate on her face - whereas their daughters would be clothed, held back from the dirt and scrubbed clean. I was allowed to be me growing up - I want her to have as much fun as che can and play - we will get to the other stuff when she is older.
The disadvantages are that I easily get frustrated with certain aspects of life here. Like the way they drive - and this stress is passed onto her. Also many children tend to think of her as different because she speaks to me in a different language or criticize me and tell me that I am confusing her. At the park, one little boy asked his mom if Maggie was drunk because she spoke "weird". At her school, they have a special rule for her: even though we speak differently we should not be treated differently. We are often defined by a stereotype and not by who we really are. However these disadvantages are less noticeable the longer I am here and the more that I adapt to life here. Another problem I run into is with my specific hobbies. I am crafty, I like to sew and scrapbook and have a creative outlet. In Sicily, I find it hard to find materials of my liking. I tend to order a lot for the internet. I mean if you are used to having a large selection, it is rather difficult to find in small town Sicily.
How welcoming were the locals when you arrived in Sicily?
They are very accepting and quite curious as to why an American would want to live here. On an acquaintance level, they are open and extremely friendly; however, I have noticed that they are harder to get to know intimately. I have watched my fair share of movies and I have seen how small town locals come out of the woodwork to welcome a newcomer (at least according to Hollywood that is how is should be). In my experience, it is not like that. I have to really work hard at establishing longlasting relationships. Plus that fact that there is not an established expat group makes meeting others difficult. I am not trying to say that it is impossible - just that one has to make a sincere effort to make friends.
How would describe a typical local? How do you think they differ from Italians on the mainland?
Sicilians are a proud folk with a lack of civil duty. There is nowhere in the world better than this island. They will speak for hours about Sicily and how wonderful it is and then will not hesitate to throw their trash on the ground. They will complain about the lack of opportunity in Sicily - and when opportunity presents itself they will never take advantage of it. Everything they do is based on their sense of family, tradition and dovere (duty) without really noticing it. Speaking and interacting with Sicilians, you cant help but love them despite their mistakes and difects - because they are completely oblivious of them. They may drive like crazy people but not intentionally - they are innocently rude.
They differ from other Italians in the fact that they are islanders. They are dependent upon the sea for their happiness and are more laidback in their approach to life. Not to mention, the dialect. Sicilian is not Italian. They are not a forgiving community - they dont like to be double crossed and do not hesitate to cut you out of their lives. As time passes and more Sicilians are leaving Sicily for work or school, you can see that they are becoming more like Italians.
Would you say your area is family-friendly and is there anything you think would improve children´s lives where you live?
I would say naturally it is family friendly. I often take my daughter to the beach or to see the sea or up the mountains. Plus the climate allows us to spend almost the year outdoors. However public services are not well maintained like the playgrounds. I feel like they over look the need to provide pastimes for the little ones.
What advice would you give for anyone having a baby or thinking of relocating to Sicily with children?
Be active. Dont expect anyone to cover all aspects for you. You must be the one who asks or takes the first step even when talking about the little things. And dont take one persons word for it. Sicilians like to say NO when they dont know the answer.
What couldn´t you live without in Sicily?
The sunshine, the food, the sea and my family!
What could you live without in Sicily?!
The way they drive, the two hour "siesta" mid day and the fact that you have to organize your day around their schedules instead of fitting them into yours.